Programmer’s guide to weight loss
I often wonder, what kind of IT-related articles are the most enjoyable to read, for visitors to Selleo’s blog. Are they our articles about business solutions in IT or, maybe articles on software and outsourcing? Perhaps the kind of articles where a writer goes through every detail of a given technology stack? I am sure, everyone can fit themselves into one of the aforementioned categories, more or less. If you ask me, I would choose the “technologies” category without hesitation. Aside from that, there is also another category of articles, written by programmers, for programmers, that I usually find very enjoyable to read: such as articles on weight loss and healthy food. I love these articles, because it is delightful for me to see how programmers try to apply the principles of engineering, various software delivery methodologies and good practices to deal with the “disease of the 21st century”, which is excessive weight. This is the disease which we programmers are very liable to, because of our work environment – it’s hard to argue that we burn a lot of calories whilst sitting in front of a screen, and typing on the keyboard. I have read several articles where the authors – some of my favorite programmers – shared their tips, tricks and how-to’s, about weight loss and healthy food. Sometimes it was just a memorable digression that was chipped into an article, while a writer discussed some IT related issues, but often there were whole posts devoted to dietary topics.
Recently, I thought to myself about doing some sort of compilation (where I could chip in some of my comments – here or there, of course) and maybe tell a few stories about my take on losing weight. As you will probably agree – we programmers always have something to say about “healthy living and dieting”: — *grins*. Our work environment inadvertently grants us expert knowledge on this particular topic.
Let’s start with a real gem, on the topic: “An Engineer’s Guide To Weight Loss” by Ted Dziuba. That is right, there is no ”url” here and I can assure you, that it has not been accidentally omitted. “An Engineer’s Guide To Weight Loss” is no longer available on Ted’s blog and I couldn’t find a decent copy of it, just some excerpts (which, of course, I will happily quote in my article). The reason this guide is not available anymore, is that, not so long ago, Ted Dziuba decided that he should change his blogging style, and instead of “trolling and making fun” of various technology stacks or technology stack users, he would make his posts more informative and balanced. To be honest, I haven’t seen anything bad in his witty and sometimes foul style, because he had been making a lot of great and valid points, with his blog posts about software. This is his decision and no matter how bad I feel about it, there is nothing I can do but accept it. OK, enough of ranting about Ted’s choice to cut himself off from the past, let’s get back on the topic. Here are some quotes from his blog post, that I managed to find lying around in various dark corners of the Internet. This is all that is left from his weight loss tips list:
- “Go Easy On The Drinking – When I go out on a Friday night to have a few beers, it’s not hard for me to consume 800 calories worth of booze. Yes, liquor helps to numb the pain of writing XML parsers all day, but it comes at an expense. To compensate, take up smoking. I smoke more cigars now: it’s a good zero-calorie alternative.”
- “Drink More Coffee – Caffeine is an appetite suppressant. In large enough quantities, it can be used as an amphetamine. Drink up.”
- “Dieting and exercising suck. This is possibly the most miserable thing you can do to yourself. You are not going to have fun. If you’re going to pussyfoot around and work out for 30 minutes in your “fatburn” zone three times a week, don’t even bother. You’re just wasting your time. One hour per day, hard. You should be close to vomiting by the end of that hour.”
At some point, Ted recommends you to take up smoking! As smoking keeps your appetite in check, it helps you to reach your goal of weight loss. Generally, Ted described losing weight as a simple “input/output” operation that “we engineers should have no problems grasping”, i.e, in order to weigh less, you need to eat less. Here is also an ironic summary from his article:
- “To that end, if you are more than 50 pounds overweight, are unmarried, have no children, and your only reason to get up in the morning is your shitty software job, the healthy lifestyle is not for you. You are better off eating yourself to the grave: you will get much more satisfaction out of life by eating cheeseburgers than you will by torturing the pounds of fat off your gut.”
Cheerful and optimistic, isn’t it?
Okay, let’s move to my another favorite writer – Steve Yegge. Although Steve didn’t dedicate any of his articles exclusively to the weight loss topic, (as far as I know) he uses food allegories from time to time, in his writing. In my blog post I would like to bring up his most important note, in my opinion. In one of the blog posts he describes howhe and his brother have been struggling with excessive weight. Steve’s rule of thumb for weight loss is basically “being consistent” in “dealing with fat” . Just like any good software developer is described as “the one who can finish what he has started”, Steve describes the painful process like this: “Two months ago I finally started going to the gym every day, 7 days a week, and my legs are still sore every day. My weight hasn’t improved at all yet. However, it will. You just have to work at these things consistently.” This is basically the opposite of what Ted Dziuba suggests – “going to the gym will get you nowhere”, judging by my own experiences, I agree with that. I will get back to this opinion later in my article.
Refined carbohydrates are also less filling than proteins or fats, for example, so we have a tendency to eat more than we should. So, like any good software engineer, Yehuda Katz has an eye for detail and uses it freely to explain various reasons why losing weight is a hard process. I agree with the key point he makes. Yehuda Katz notes in his article that “interestingly, the food in my “delicious” diet came about without any effort to specifically change the macro-nutrient composition of the food I eat, and is pretty close to the carbohydrate intake recommended by Lutz’s clinical studies.”. He has banned bread and possibly all products (I believe) containing a lot of processed wheat, like pastas. So there is no need to make a revolution in the way you cook your meals every day. Imagine that you eat pasta from time to time. So the next time you are going to cook some pasta with meat and vegetables, instead just cook more vegetables and meat, leaving pasta out of your menu.
The last on my list is James Gollick, who also happens to be a Ruby programmer. James has written a great post“How to Lose 100 Pounds” I can understand you, if your first thought is: “Yeah, right…”, because it does sound like a marketing promise, written on some magical weight-loss pills package offer that you can find here and there on the Internet or in magazines.Except: this guy really did it. He did it by following some good practices he engineered on his own, with some help from the right books and the right people. James’s post contains everything you should know in order to successfully lose some weight. He is also plain and honest about what you need to do with your diet: “you won’t be able to eat everything you’re eating now, because if you could, you’d already be thin”. Also, an interesting point, James Gollick shares Ted’s and my opinion about exercise: “Exercise has never helped me lose weight. For much of the time that I was grossly overweight, I was also extremely physically active, often whitewater kayaking or downhill skiing for several hours 4 or 5 days a week, and continuing to put on fat. Despite conventional wisdom to the contrary, exercise isn’t an effective weight loss strategy for me.” So, if you’ve read his post and followed his tips and you did not manage to lose some weight, then obviously… you did something wrong. Just try again, maybe a little bit harder than last time. Use your engineering skills! So for example, if you are a true Agile methodology follower, get back to the whiteboard, re-read his post again and find out what you’ve done wrong and go for another iteration… uhm… I mean a weight loss campaign!
EXPLAINING MYSELF AND MY TWO CENTS
In the introduction part of my article, I have explained the motivation that lies behind my writings about “programmers food”. I briefly mentioned the urge to share some of my thoughts on this matter. It’s a natural thing for us humans, to talk loudly about our victories and successes, so it is not any different for me. As a matter of fact, I did manage to lose *some* weight. For as long as I can remember, I have only been gaining weight. Up to the point, where it was as James Gollick described in his article – I couldn’t imagine it could be the other way around . When I reached the notable figure of 100 kilos, I finally decided to start a revolution and fight back. I got down to 92 kilos from 101.2 kilos. Life became more enjoyable.
Here are some of my tips:
You don’t need any drugs or magical pills.
- Like Ted Dziuba said, losing weight is a simple input/output operation, we engineers perfectly understand. In order to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume. The key reason why you have weight problems, is most probably because you eat too much, or you eat the wrong food. Forget about any excuses (if you’re using any) like “I have a bad metabolism”, “I don’t exercise enough” or “this is because of my birth control pills (this only applies to women of course)”. These excuses are false and lame, and they keep you from reaching your goals.
- Although exercising won’t make you slim, it will make you more fit, and thus overall more happy. Most importantly: while you’re doing something, like cycling, or having a walk, or playing soccer, you don’t think about eating food. So go and buy some Orbitrek. Turn on your laptop/PC and play some screencasts about programming or anything you like. Then start exercising. Do it very slowly and lazily but just do it and watch your favourite screencasts.
- Get rid of sweeteners, bread, pasta, pierogies and all the stuff that is carbohydrate rich. As Yehuda Katz noticed, you don’t have to change your cuisine, just get rid of the aforementioned products, and make up the difference by cooking more meat and vegetables.
- Banning bread prevents you from eating snacks between your main meals. It is too easy to prepare a sandwich. Preparing a snack without bread takes up more time, work and creativity. It may sound hilarious, but it’s harder to cheat on your daily calories amount and eat more than you should, if you make snacks preparation harder for yourself.
- Pick the right time to start. It’s easy to lose focus if you’re distracted by everyday duties and work. As for myself, I started on a random Friday and continued my efforts until the weekend after. I literally did not eat anything, except for one small meal and a few vitamin supplement products. I am not going to argue it was smart or healthy. Consult your doctor first, and ask if your metabolism can handle this without problems, and remember to drink lots of water. I put myself on “starvation rations” because I wanted to have a good start. A big “boom”, to point me in the right direction. It wasn’t easy but I managed to keep up with my plan, by thinking to myself “damn, if I start eating that much again (read: open up the input pipeline), I will make all that weekend‘s effort go to waste”. So, if you have some unused vacation, take a week or two weeks off your job to focus solely on losing weight. It may be your best holiday ever.
That is basically it. If you have something interesting to add on the topic, or know an exceptional programmer who shares his thoughts about healthy food and weight loss, please feel free to post it in the comments. Finally, remember: what makes you a good engineer, can also make you a slim and healthy guy or girl.